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A scene from "The Collapsed"

Unstable Ground

2 out of 4 stars

Country
USA
Language
English

Apocalyptic anxiety is running high these days. Current events, faith and other factors have created what Time magazine writer Nancy Gibbs has called a "perfect storm of preoccupation."

Not surprisingly, apocalyptic fiction is more pervasive than ever - and there's more on the big screen than mainstream visions like Roland Emmerich's effects-laden 2012 and star-driven pieces like The Book of Eli and The Road.

In his low-budget, gore-lite horror-suspense thriller The Collapsed, Toronto filmmaker Justin McConnell focuses on the journey of one family after some never-fully-explained force (depicted as a kind of evil wind) has infected and obliterated most of the population - and set off small CGI fires in the windows of downtown Toronto buildings.

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McConnell is not trying to rip off The Road here. In fact, Scott Weaver (John Fantasia), the family patriarch, gets his wife (Lise Moule), son (Scott Vieira) and daughter (Anna Ross) out of the city and off the road as soon as possible. After raiding a small-town convenience store for supplies - and narrowly escaping two gun-toting wanderers - they begin a cross-country trek under the forest canopy toward Dover's Bend, their old hometown where Scott's estranged son might still be holed up.

With the collapsed civilization out of the picture now, it becomes clear we're watching a family whose own dynamic has collapsed. They squabble but ultimately have no choice but to follow dad's plan - at least it's a plan. It's safer to stay out of sight and in the woods, assures Scott, who conveniently has wilderness training and also has managed to scavenge a couple of guns.

Every once in a while, an ominous vibe makes them feel like they're being hunted. After several nights of lookout duty, Scott begins having brief, disturbing dreams as the film builds toward a final showdown and revelation, including a satisfying psychological twist.

While the dialogue is unfortunately pat and awkward, which has impact on the performances, McConnell makes up for it with fine pacing and atmosphere. The elegant camera work of Pasha Patriki exploits the natural settings, constantly shifting to make us wonder what's lurking behind the trees, and the sound design and music underline the quiet, mounting tension.

The filmmaker's less-is-more approach serves his low-key story well. What The Collapsed lacks is the jolts that horror fans may prefer in their post-apocalyptic fare.

The Collapsed

  • Directed by Justin McConnell
  • Written by Justin McConnell and Kevin Hutchinson
  • Starring John Fantasia, Scott Vieira, Lise Moule and Anna Ross
  • Classification: 14A

The Collapsed opens May 27 in Toronto and June 3 in Calgary with other cities to follow.

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